1901 Ogden’s Leading Athletes Set Featured 22 of the World’s Greatest Sportsmen
This early tobacco card set focused on some of the greatest athletes at the turn of the century
UK tobacco maker Ogden’s created an entire host of sports-related cigarette cards in the pre-war era. One of the more popular issues was the General Interest set, which consisted of six series’ (A-F) and is believed to have been issued in 1901 and 1902.
But in addition to that massive set, which includes more than 1,500 cards, they also created a slew of smaller categorized sets. While the General Interest set covers practically everything under the sun, these smaller sets focused on specific subjects, including military personnel, places, and athletes.
The cards are a bit confusing because, not only do these smaller sets have the exact same design, but many of the subjects are also subjects found in the larger General Interest set. And in those cases where subjects are duplicated, most of the images are the same. Typically, one has to turn the cards over on the back to see which set they belong to.
Among the athletes is a separate set of boxers called, Heroes of the Ring. That set is pretty popular just because it’s a boxing issue, but Ogden’s issued a small, less well known set called Leading Athletes.
The Leading Athletes Set
As I said, other than the backs, the Leading Athletes cards look no different from the regular Ogden’s General Interest series — black borders, Ogden’s Cigarettes name in large, thick letters at the bottom, and a black and white image of the athlete. Here is a card for C. Harper, a world champion sprinter.
The set is generally considered to have been issued in 1901, which is basically along the same timeline as the General Interest cards. The Leading Athletes set probably isn’t what you think. At least it’s not if you’re unfamiliar with the Ogden’s cards.
See, while American collectors are probably thinking of baseball, football, basketball, or hockey when they think of athletes, it’s important to remember that this is a set from the UK. In all, only a total of four sports are really featured — track and field, cross country, sculling/rowing, and ice skating.
In all, there are only 22 cards in the entire Leading Athletes set. While none of the athletes are what you would call big names, there are some important athletes here, to be sure.
All were either champions at one point or record holders in the sports they represented. The lone exceptions (at least mentioned on the cards) are James Wray and B.H. Howell, who both lost championships. Below is the complete checklist as well as the particular accomplishments of every athlete:
- F.E. Bacon – Ten Mile Run champion
- C.A. Bradley – Four-time amateur sprinting champion
- E.C. Bredin – Half Mile champion
- H. Cullum – Half Mile champion
- William Cummings – Ten Mile Run record holder
- A.R. Downer – Quarter Mile sprint champion
- John Flanagan – Hammer throw record holder
- W.G. George – One Mile record holder
- C. Harper – Ex-world champion sprinter
- E.G. Hemmerde – Diamond Sculls race winner
- Denis Horgan – Amateur Athletic Championships shot put winner
- B.H. Howell – Diamond Sculls Race runner up
- Harry Hutchins – Winner of several Sheffield Handicaps
- B. Johnson – Amateur Athletic Championships pole jump winner
- T.F. Keane – Winner of Sheffield Handicaps
- A.C. Kraenzlein – Amateur Athletic Championships long jump winner
- A. E. Tebbitt – Amateur Skating Championship winner
- G.B. Tincler – One Mile, Two Mile, and Three Mile world champion
- George Towns – Professional Sculling Championship winner
- Frank Ward – Professional Skating Championship winner
- H. Watkins – Four to Twelve Miles Champion
- James Wray – Professional Sculling Championship finalist
It’s also important to note that some of the athletes are found in other sets. A lot of American collectors may not know most of the names in the set. However, collectors specializing in other pre-war sets may recognize a few.
Hammer thrower, John Flanagan, is one of the track and field stars depicted. Flanagan, who is included in the Leading Athletes set, also has two T218 Champions cards and is also found elsewhere, including in the E229 National Licorice set.
W.G. George is another familiar name that some collectors might recall. George was the world record holder for the mile run and also has a card in the 19th century Kimball Champions set (N184).
Fianlly, another runner, William Cummings is a familiar name, too. Cummings is found in this set but was on an earlier card in the 1889 Allen and Ginter Champions set (N29). Shown here are Cummings’ Ogden’s card along with his N29 card.
It is important to note that, while these athletes are not too well known today, that was hardly the case at the time. Consider that these athletes mentioned as appearing in other sets were in both the popular Ogden’s UK set and the American T-Card sets. Really, these guys were on tobacco cards around the globe.
Overall, this is a really nice set if you’re into cards from sports other than the major American ones.
Full sets of these are rarely seen. One sold recently on eBay for about $40 and I have been kicking myself ever since for not buying it. A second sold even more recently for a bit less that I missed entirely. Individually, these typically sell for a few bucks a piece.
Buying singles is also not a great way to build the set. You do not see many of them around and, if you live here in the U.S., you will often be forced to buy them from overseas where the shipping can be expensive.
This set will not be for everyone, obviously. But if you enjoy the old Ogden’s cards or collecting other types of athletes, it’s a nice little set.